Chapter one - Introduction 

Imagine a very different economy just a few years from now: A large part of the jobs that we do today has been taken over by machines, which can produce most of the products and services we need much cheaper. Instead, humans will spend their efforts on a very different type of value creation – delivering what robots are incapable of: Care, presence, empathy, art, exchanging ideas and experiences…

A greater share of the economy will not just be based on money, but on social and environmental values. Much of what we do for each other doesn’t pay a salary, yet it’s valuable and meaningful for all involved. Most people will spend fewer hours in paid jobs and more of us will freelance, working on gigs and projects. We will generally need less money to get by because a large part of the products and services we need are cheap, or even free, because we barter, share and co-create. Also, our basic expenses are covered by a Universal Basic Income.

In short, we prosper and thrive by cooperating, free to focus on the things that really matter to us.

… There’s another scenario, however, and it’s a lot less rosy:

Large parts of the population have been rendered useless. There’s nothing they can contribute that machines can’t do cheaper and better. A shrinking elite is competing fiercely to maintain their position, and they do so by wringing out profits; automating, outsourcing, avoiding obligations and commitments. While the bottom of society is getting poorer and more marginalized, the rich are fabulously wealthy and can spend limitlessly on moonshots, vanities and political power. Societies are fragmenting, as everyone is trying to protect what they have, or revolting against a system which seems to be controlled by a tiny minority. It’s every man fighting for himself, while distrust and protectionism prevent any progress – and making us all unable to tackle our common global problems that are looming ever larger.

…It could go both ways. The two scenarios are driven by the same underlying trends. The difference between them is an attitude, an assumption about how we relate to each other and how we can best create value and progress.

This book is called the WE-economy, because its main point is that the next steps towards prosperity and a safer world can only happen if we think of it as a shared project.

To create the values that we want and need onwards, we must collaborate.

Stepping into a new logic

We are producing more food than ever, but very few people are working in the fields, these days. Likewise, industrial production is still with us. We are producing and consuming more stuff than ever. But in terms of revenues, employment and innovation, the center of gravity has already shifted again, away from factories and manufacturing. But the way we organize value creation is still based on the logic of industrialism, where employees of companies and organizations create finished, standardized services and goods. Future growth will be based on a very different kind of value creation.

The new economy is organized around the creation of solutions for a particular context - I call them instances.

Whether it's in health, education, transport, entertainment or energy supply, businesses will create greater value by coordinating the assembly of exactly what the individual user needs, here and now.

But in order to do that, the entire value chain must be restructured. As companies and as individuals, we will be required to work more flexibly and in smaller modules. Society and the economy become more "liquid” and faster changing. The conventional categories and roles of the industrial age are crumbling, inadequate or misleading.

The new economy is characterized by digital technology. It’s about what we can do with global digital networks, billions of smart devices, Big Data, AI, robots and 3D printing. Generally, it will be an economy in which everyone and everything is connected much closer. with greater complexity, interaction and interdependence. Connection, co-creation and coordination are keywords to describe the conditions and opportunities that digital technology offers us. The solutions that will drive the new economy will be co-created, and their value will emerge in the interaction between a range of contributors: companies, communities and end-users. For companies and individuals alike, success will depend on how well they connect and coordinate with an ever-wider range of actors and participants.

It’s a WE-economy. Realizing its potential will require cooperation, openness and trust, and the awareness that, in order for you to thrive, the network around you must be thriving as well. 

In the industrial economy, companies owned factories or offices, and staffed them with employees who mass-produced products and services, which were sold to consumers.
But each of these fundamentals is changing.

The next economy will be characterized by companies which use platforms to connect to a network of contributors and resources that can be coordinated and combined to create solutions that are tailored to a specific customer in a specific context. Often the end-user will be involved in co-creating and influencing the solution.

This changes the way organizations are structured. It changes the business model; it changes the type of value that is delivered; it changes the roles that companies, workers and customers have relative to each other; and it changes the skills that are necessary to thrive. It’s a very different game.

Re-writing the social contract

This is a book about growth and progress  – but a different kind of growth than the one we have pursued so far.

The new economy will create value that goes far beyond what the industrial economy could deliver. By connecting all our devices, by using intense amounts of data and analytical power, and by coordinating large networks of competence and resources, we can create solutions to very complex needs and desires: We can live longer and more healthy lives, we will have top-notch knowledge and education available everywhere, and we can solve energy and resource needs by being far more efficient, and by connecting value chains in loops that reuse materials. 

We may even achieve this while working a lot less to earn money, empowered instead to focus our efforts on the values that matter most deeply to us as humans.

With a bit of luck and wise behavior, this will be the next, higher stage in the development of civilization, moving up another notch towards comfort, safety, knowledge and self-realization.

But… Transition can be painful and risky. For millions, the early days of industrialism were not a joyride. It took almost a century before new balances had been established in the modern welfare state and society as a whole prospered.

We’re in a similar upheaval today. The norms and categories of the industrial society are dissolving, and we haven’t yet developed a logic for how to assign rights and obligations or how to distribute gains and power in the new scenario.

As we shall see, a globally connected economy holds a strong tendency towards polarization of wealth and monopoly of power. Without counter measures and balance, this could undermine progress for all. Developing the new norms will be a struggle as some loose old privileges, while others take charge.

We can’t escape each other – and we shouldn’t

We are coming at it from a strong position. Humanity has never been as wealthy, healthy, educated and better equipped. We have technologies in the pipeline that could deliver energy, water and food sustainably, eradicate many diseases, and lift billions out of poverty. Breakthroughs happen, progress is possible.
If we cooperate.

New wealth and value emerges when we connect and interact.  When we combine our resources and skills and when we exchange information and experience, something new and better can emerge; something extra, which wasn’t there before the pieces started interacting. 2 plus 2 becomes 5.

And indeed, just now, we are putting amazing technology in the hands of more or less everybody on the planet to share knowledge and mobilize a greater diversity of resources and contributors. We’re all set.

But connecting and co-creating also requires trust, confidence and cohesion in society. You will not engage with others if you believe it will only make you weaker and them stronger. If you don’t agree or understand the goals, if you don’t even feel part of the system, you will retreat and try to wall yourself off. Or lash out.

We cannot escape the reality that we are already 7.5 billion on the same planet and we all want a better life. We are connected and interdependent, whether we like it or not. We can’t escape each other, and unless we cooperate we will not develop ways of living that leave enough for everybody without trashing the planet.

A WE-economy may sound naïve and out of touch with reality at a time when global politics are dominated by a retreat from international cooperation and by a confrontational attitude. The US, Russia, Great Britain, Turkey… all are preoccupied with nationalism, shutting borders, leaving courtesy and compromises behind in order to strengthen themselves and their community. The ME-first approach has swept across the planet.


Nevertheless, this book is an argument for why we must continue to listen and learn from others, why we should reach out, explore, find ways of extending our networks, and seek solutions that are beneficial to the entire system around us. It’s an argument for openness, inclusion and sharing.

I am not presenting any universal solutions or suggesting that we should all just live happily together in close harmony.

But we can’t afford to stay in a ME-economy - fragmented, shortsighted and local. We will waste our opportunity for progress – and it could bring us down in a very painful way.

At a personal level and at a political level, the central challenges of the coming years will all depend on findings ways to coexist in an ever-tighter connected system.

We will be competing with each other. Progress will emerge from our race to create the best solutions. But the kind of growth that will drive the economy will be more complex and it will require greater and broader cooperation. At the same time, it will be increasingly clear that the foundation for progress is undermined for everyone if growth only benefits a few at the expense of large parts of the population.

We must find ways of making sure that everyone can find a meaningful place and have a sense of belonging to a society that works in everybody’s interest.

We need to learn to think as WE. It’s different – but different can be better.

Read a brief summary of the chapters of the book